We need a new generation of pro-housing politicians. What should they look like?

Ben Derbyshire

In my last piece I asked whether the UK needed a different generation of housing-friendly politician if it is to have any chance of tackling the housing crisis.

But what would a truly housing friendly politician look and sound like? The nearest we have come to this, of late, is undoubtedly Nick Boles, who stands almost alone. But he needs an army of acolytes proselytising the benefits of home building, not just in Cabinet but in every province, city, borough and parish.

Political parties need to groom candidates to take to the hustings on a ticket of home building as an essential prerequisite of healthy communities and a source of civic pride. The message must be much more than the rather downbeat necessity of avoiding vagrancy and homelessness even though these are the visible signs of the most extreme human suffering inflicted by Nimby Britain. The job is also to persuade voters of the beneficial impact upon jobs, local services, labour mobility, disposable income, social diversity, community building, choice of housing family life and the rest.

What policies might such a breed of pro-housebuilding politicians support? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Demonstrably high quality design. Building for Life 12 is a lingua franca enabling the public, local planning authorities and developers to agree on what good looks like.  It should be adopted universally.
  2. Home Performance Labelling. Consumers will begin to trust the industry when there is readily available evidence on which it can form a view.  Look no further than my Housing Forum paper at www.housingfortheinformationage.co.uk.
  3. Relaxing the green belt boundary. Actually Nick Boles has rather over cooked this one – according to the Economist, extending the boundary by an average of 0.5km around London would give us all the additional housing we need.
  4. Densification of suburbia. Similarly, doubling the density of just 10% of the suburban footprint of London (two thirds of London is suburban – it’s a low density city) would meet all our needs for the next 10 years.
  5. Superdensity - especially around parkland and open space. 4HousingArchitects (HTA,PRP,LBA,PTE) wrote the definitive ‘Building at Superdensity’ design guide. It works if it is close to where people can enjoy open space and access transportation.
  6. Private rent as a public good. Years of prejudice created by the a political over-reaction to Rachmanism must be overcome by the left, whilst the right wing must pluck up courage to abandon the love affair with Thatcher’s property owning democracy.
  7. If you want lots of housing, plan for it! Places like Cambridge prove that a robust long term strategic plan can be shared between city and county and can transcend political short-termism. Then you have to put the infrastructure in first.
  8. Get housing and infrastructure investment off the PSBR. When we were building Homes for Heroes public debt was 180% of GDP, now its only 70%. If we were to do as the Europeans the spending would not even count as public debt.
  9. Custom build integrated into the policy framework. Insist local authorities assess the need, and provide a planning framework that permits, not prohibits customers who want to adapt homes to their needs and preferences.
  10. Promote city living, above all. Urbanisation will play a significant role in saving the planet.

Nick Boles wants to examine ‘the balance between growth, economic and social development and the protection of the landscape, and whether current legislation properly captures what we are trying to achieve’. That is a brave thing to do, especially for a Tory. He deserves our support, especially to help him set out a vision of sustainable 21st century metropolis. Support for him might encourage others to follow.

Ben Derbyshire is managing partner of HTA Design